September 15-October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month, started in August of 1988. While the dates of September 15-October 15 are a bit unusual for a heritage month, this was selected in recognition of the independence days (September 15) shared by Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, as well as Mexico’s independence on September 16. This month is a celebration of the culture, history, and people of Latin America, including the impact of Latin America and Latin Americans in the United States.
Some noteworthy legal practioners, inventors, scientists to note this month:
- Sonia Sotomayor is the first Latina Supreme Court Justice appointed in 2009. After graduating law school, Sonia entered private practice where she specialized in IP litigation. During this time, she served on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and the State of New York Mortgage Agency. In 1992, Sonia became the youngest judged appointed to her District’s Court. Sonia also taught law at the New York University and Columbia Law School.
- Luis von Ahn, born in Guatemala, is regarded as a pioneer of crowdsourcing, but also is well-known for his development of the reCAPTCHA system and Duolingo. The reCAPTCHA system you’ll know from the many “I am not a robot” check boxes and distorted images you must complete online before going to certain pages. This technology is key for helping a computer differentiate between robots and human beings, helping to keep internet users protected from malware and spam. Duolingo is a free app that provides language education for 33 languages, serving about 300 million users worldwide. Luis recently won the prestigious Lemelson-MIT prize, and works full-time as the CEO of Duolingo.
- Ella Ocha was the first Hispanic woman astronaut, completing four missions with NASA and spending 978 hours in outer space. She also helped develop three patents in the field of optics which help computers process information more quickly and efficiently, inventions that now help NASA process information collected on missions. Dr. Ocha worked as the director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX from 2013-2018.
- Domingo Liotta is not only a talented heart surgeon, but is responsible for creating the first artificial heart used in a human being. He developed the organ in 1969 and was implanted in a patient while they waited for a real human heart to be available for transplant. The recipient lived for 64 hours with the artificial heart before receiving a real one, proving this procedure to be a viable option as a bridge to cardiac transplantation. Dr. Liotta received his doctorate in Medicine and Surgery from the National University of Cordoba in Argentina. He also worked in Lyon, France; at Baylor College of Medicine as Director of the Artificial Heart Program; and Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Morón in Argentina.
The USPTO also provided a great resource to recognize some Hispanic Americans and some of their notable corresponding inventions. https://www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/inventors-entrepreneurs/hispanic-heritage-and-inventions